The Prodigal Turncoat Returns!

Four years ago, Lebron James went on TV and in the most ridiculous spectacle in recent memory announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach.” Immediately, every teenage boy in America had a new euphemism for taking a dump. This was fitting given Lebron’s “Decision” was to leave the Cavs, his hometown team that had drafted him with the first pick, to join what was then Wade’s team in Miami along with Bosh.

I killed Lebron for that decision. As did pretty much the entire sports world outside of the state of Florida. We had the best player in the world abandoning his team for “help” chasing rings somewhere else. This wasn’t a washed up Malone and Payton going to the Lakers for one last gasp. Or Shaq being pushed out of LA because of Kobe and then going on to win a ring in Miami. This was “The King”, in his prime, voluntarily choosing to play in someone else’s court.

My absolute favorite description of the Decision actually came from someone defending Lebron:

“James loves to have fun. He’s not a killer, like Michael Jordan. He’s not a harping-on-the-court-coach, pain-in-the-rear like Kobe. He doesn’t need to win like he needs his next breath, like Lance Armstrong. He is goofy and funny and whimsical. The fake camera shots, the dancing, the chalk. He was like that in high school and he’s still like that. So why should anybody be surprised when he wants to play with his friends in a city that’s 97 percent fun? The Miami Heat are the perfect fit for James. It’s Dwyane Wade’s team. Wade can be the killer, like he was while winning a ring in 2006. James will just dunk, swat layups and do his Kid n’ Play impressions. You could see it in how much he loved the over-the-top bacchanalia the Heat put on for the Three Rise Men — fireworks, fog, voguing down the catwalk. You may want him to be something else, but he’s not. What are you going to do, sue?”

“You may want him to be something else, but he’s not.” Still true.

********

After Lebron went to Miami, the rest became history. In four years, the three amigos have been to four finals, winning two of them. But what have we really learned over that period? That he can get a team through the atrocious east and then win a 7 game series playing with Wade and Bosh? Not to put too fine a point on it, but so what? I bet a starting five of Wade, Durant, Lebron, Bosh, and Duncan would win it all too. Color me unimpressed.

But then, after winning two championships, a funny thing happened on the way to that three-peat. The Heat got their collective asses kicked by a better basketball “team.” The less athletic Spurs, largely using ball movement and fundamental basketball, dismantled the best player in the world and his little boy band of south beach collusiveness. It was eerily similar to all of those times that Kobe and Jordan had their teams get spanked in 5 (with FOUR double digit losses) in a finals series when they were playing with two other all stars they had hand picked. Wait a minute, I’m getting word that never happened.

So, The King’s hand picked team just got hammered for the first time since they joined up together. How will he respond? Like the great ones do. By working even harder with his teammates and coaching staff so it will never happen again and going into F.U. mode in four straight playoff series next year. Right? Hello? Wait a minute, I’m getting word that’s not how he’ll respond at all.

How will Lebron respond to his first bit of adversity since leaving the Cavs? ABANDON SHIP!!! ABANDON SHIP!!! Attention, Attention: Lebroney needs more help! Get Lebroney more help!! Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s hope the press spins this into a great “story” about Lebron coming “home” to “atone” for the way he left.

Horse manure.

Lebron is going back to Cleveland because playing on a team with Kyrie, Wiggins, and potentially Kevin Love, on a team with future cap space (with wiggins on a rookie deal and kyrie on a lower “max”) and draft picks they can use as currency (the heat traded all their picks to cle in the sign and trade to get LeBron) gives Lebron a better chance to win championships over the next four years than staying in Miami with a capped out team, no picks, and a breaking down Wade. He’s like Malone and Peyton in their final years, every year.

What’s the matter Lebron, couldn’t you have signed a 1 year deal with the Spurs? Or would that have been too transparent? How about this: maybe instead of choosing your team now, just hang out until you see which teams make the finals, and then sign a ten day contract with whoever you think has a better chance to win. If you’re going to be this guy, then at least be up front about it and go the full 9.

Or, just continue to be such a front runner, that you’ll go back to playing for a guy who publicly called you a “coward” in a city that BURNED YOUR JERSEY IN EFFIGY. I think that if the Columbus KKK’s had an all star team and a max contract slot, we’d see Lebron wearing all white next year.

Oh, and to the fans who burned Lebron’s Jersey four years ago and are now buying season tickets to cheer for him? You’re a bunch of hypocrites.

********

One guy I don’t feel at all bad for in this is D. Wade. Four years ago, you must have been thinking what a coup it was that you could get the best player in the world to leave his HOME team and play for yours. And you got two more rings out of it, so congrats. But don’t act all wounded when he leaves the second you guys start to have problems for greener pastures. The cowardly turncoat giveth, and the cowardly turncoat taketh away.

I may want him to be something else, but he’s not.

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World Cup Quarterfinals Predictions

France vs. Germany

A classic clash of European powers, but they come in to this one from opposite positions.  Germany was seen as one of the big favorites coming in, but since that opening demolition of Portugal, they’ve failed to impress much.  Meanwhile, France came in with fairly low expectations, especially when Franck Ribery went down with an injury, but they’ve arguably been the best team in the tournament to this point.  This is a tricky pick for me, as the Germans were my pick to win it all and the French were my “sleeper” pick.  I have to stick with the quality of the Germans.  I wonder if they will put Miroslav Klose or Andre Schurrle into the starting line-up, because they’ve really struggled to find goals over their past two games.  I’ll go with Germany 2-1.

Brazil vs. Colombia

Somewhat similar to Germany/France, with a big favorite who has underwhelmed against a team that has rolled through with four relatively easy wins to this point.  But, this time, I’m going with the upset.  Part of the reason I didn’t pick Brazil to win this tournament was because I felt like the pressure would just weigh them down and balance out any positive push they get from the home-field advantage.  I think we’ve seen that bear out in their performance, as well as the way that numerous players broke down in tears after their WIN over Chile.  I think they’re just wound up too tight, and with each successive step in this tournament it gets squeezed tighter.  Meanwhile, the Colombians have played with such confidence and ease.  They won’t have the home crowd in this one that they’ve had in the previous four games, but they’ve shown the talent to take down this Brazil team, and even to win this tournament.  Colombia knocks out the hosts with a 3-2 win.

Argentina vs. Belgium

As great as the two games on Friday are, this one is probably the most interesting for me.  I see it as virtually a coin flip game on a neutral field, but this isn’t a totally neutral field, of course.  Argentina is playing on their home continent and will certainly have the advantage in crowd support.  All that being said, I’m going with my Belgians in the upset.  Belgium has found yet another young talent in 19-year-old striker Divock Origi.  The big clubs of Europe will be falling all over each other trying to sign him away from Lille after this tournament.  And now Romelu Lukaku may have his confidence back after a great performance as a sub against the US.  It seems like they may have settled on the attacking midfield of Hazard, De Bruyne, and Mertens, with Witsel and Fellaini behind them.  It’s a monster front six, with a top notch goalkeeper that can hide some of the deficiencies in the back four.  I’ll say the Belgians find the goal in extra time for a 2-1 win.

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

I haven’t, at any point, been a big believer in this Netherlands team, and it looked like they might be heading home as they trailed Mexico in the 88th minute last game.  But now they get, by far, the weakest quarterfinal opponent out there.  Costa Rica has shown themselves to be legit and they are hard to score on, with a strong defensive style and a really good keeper in Keylor Navas.  But I have to go with the Dutch to find a way and win this 1-0.

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Knockout Stage Round One – Predictions

The Group Stage is over.  My “Drinking from the World Cup” is over.  But the games go on.  Here’s my prediction for Saturday’s double-header.

Brazil vs. Chile

This may end up being a popular upset pick, after Chile looked really good in their first two games and Brazil was largely unimpressive (sorry, a rout of Cameroon doesn’t do much).  I was already down on Brazil coming into the tournament, and they definitely have done much to change my mind on that.  All that being said, I’ll go with the Brazilians here.  I see it locked up at 1-1 when the 90 minutes expires before Neymar pops one in extra time to win it 2-1 for Brazil.

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Could the Uruguayans find a way here, without Suarez?  Of course.  But the popular pick here will definitely be Colombia because they rolled through the Group Stage with three wins and now get a Uruguay team in some turmoil after all the Suarez controversy over the last few days.  I’ll stick with Colombia anyway.  They look like a team on a mission with some guys that are emerging as stars in James (that’s pronounced Ha-mez) Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, and Victor Ibarbo.  These guys have let the team forget about the loss of their star striker to injury.  I’ll take Colombia 3-1.

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Well, my predictions for yesterday were pretty good (Brazil/Chile going 1-1 into extra time with a Brazil win and Colombia with a 2-goal win) so I’m feeling some added pressure as we head into Day 2 of the Knockout Stage.  This is absolutely one of the best games of this round.  The Netherlands have been the most impressive team in the tournament so far and are a better team than Mexico.  That being said, I’m going with the Mexicans in an upset here.  We know the Dutch, back at full strength with Van Persie and Robben up top, will be looking to go on the attack.  The Mexican fullbacks, Layun and Aguilar, have been up attacking a lot in this tournament, but they’ll have to hang back to help deal with the Dutch attack.  But I think Mexico has shown the defensive discipline to (mostly) withstand the attack and hit on some counter-attacks.  I’ll say Chicharito comes on as a sub and scores the winner in a 2-1 Mexican victory.

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Probably the least interesting game of this round, as it pits two teams that weren’t expected to be here and, more concerning, two teams that play a defensive style.  I’ll keep it simple for this prediction.  Greece has done nothing to really impress so far, while the Costa Ricans won the “Group of Champions” (though with Uruguay being dominated yesterday, you can really question how tough that group was in the first place).  I like Costa Rica 1-0, on a goal from Joel Campbell, who’s made himself money playing somewhere after this tournament.

France vs Nigeria

Similar to the Costa Rica/Greece match from yesterday in that it pits a team that’s been very impressive so far in the tournament (France) against one that has not been very impressive but managed to sneak through a mediocre group (Nigeria).  The big difference, of course, is that France has the pedigree of world class talent that Costa Rica does not possess.  Nigeria should not be counted out easily here.  They have good talent and their ace in the hole may be goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who is not only very good but also plays in the French Ligue 1, so he is very familiar with the tendencies of his opponents in this match.  Still, I’ve like this France team all along, and I think they keep the momentum going here, with a 2-1 win.

Germany vs. Algeria

It’s shaping up to be the end of the tournament for Africa today, as the two remaining sides go up against big European powers.  This should be a good measuring stick game for the Germans.  Algeria has shown themselves to be a solid but nothing-special team.  Look for them to “park the bus” and pack in their defense here, much as they did in the early going against Belgium.  It may frustrate the Germans for a while, but they should have the quality to penetrate the blockade and win this 2-0.  Algerians Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani have shown themselves to be dangerouns though.

Argentina vs. Switzerland

Sergio Aguero is out with an injury, but if there’s any team that can pretty easily withstand the loss of a world-class striker, it’s Argentina.  Switzerland has looked good in attack, with Xherdan Shaqiri pulling the strings, and both fullbacks, Rodriguez and Lichtsteiner, making solid contributions to the offense.  But that five-goal meltdown vs. the French may be telling.  Do they have the defense and goalkeeping to keep this Argentina squad down?  I’ll say no, and say that the Argies take this one, 2-1.

USA vs. Belgium

Ah, the two teams I’m rooting for most meet up here in the Round of 16.  Unfortunate.  Assuming Argentina wins in the earlier game today, the favorites will be 7-0 in this round.  Yes, that means I’m going with the Americans as the lone upset.  As I’ve said already, I think the Belgians have been overly criticized so far for the performance in this tournament.  Yes, they’ve faced three less-than-great opponents, but all of those opponents were hanging back and making it very hard for Belgium to find any space.  The US should mirror that tactic, because if they play an open, attacking style, attempting to control the ball equally, the class of the Belgians will shine.  The US needs to hang back and hope to hit on some counter-attacks.  But they’ve been able to take good advantage of their opportunities, and Jozy Altidore may be around to help out today.  I’ll say the US wins this 1-0.

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2014 World Cup: Knockout Stage – Top Half (6/28)

Well, we have gotten through the group stage and the field is cut in half.  We have gotten rid of most of the rifraf, and we are ready for some futbol.  The stakes are raised exponentially, as it has become a one-and-done tournament.  Throw out a clunker, and you will have 4 years to think about it.  Let’s go!

This post will be updated through the Quarterfinals for the top half of the bracket.

6/28, noon – Brazil vs. Chile – Round of 16
Well, the Chileans got through a really tough Group B and what is their reward?  Not only do they draw their arch-nemeses and the side that has eliminated them multiple times in World Cup play, including 2010 in the Round of 16, but now they have to play them on their home soil, where they just about never lose.  A tall task for any nation, particularly one that is not a traditional soccer superpower.  However, if there ever was a Chilean team that could do it, it would be this one.  They have probably looked the better side in this Cup (I think that if the two sides switches groups, Chile would have won Group A and Brazil would have finished 2nd in Group B – at least how they each have played).  Their attacking style can throw off a Brazilian backline that is actually pretty shaky other than Thiago Silva.  And, the Brazilian midfield seems to lack the typical Brazilian magic.  They do have the red-hot goalscorer, Neymar, and a ridiculous homefield advantage (something that Chile has enjoyed all tournament, but will not in this one).  I will be rooting for Chile and think that they have a legit shot here, but it would be disingenuous to think that Brazil wouldn’t clearly be favored to win this one.  Either way, it should be a GREAT start to the knockout round.

6/28, 4:00 – Colombia vs. Uruguay – Round of 16
And, the South American Invitational continues on Saturday, as all four sides playing on the first day of the knockout round are from the host continent.  These four outstanding soccer nations will battle for one spot in the semis.  The nightcap pits a red-hot Colombia side that looks like a legit sleeper to make noise here in the knockout stage against a Uruguay side that will be without their enigmatic biter, Luis Suarez.  While Uruguay may have the more accomplished history and another top ten team currently, the Colombians would probably be the favorites here even if Suarez were playing.  And, without him, the Uruguayans are decided underdogs here.  That being said, they still have a lot of quality and are capable of beating anyone (as evidenced by their successive must-win victories over England and Italy in the group stage).  I like Colombia here, but should be another great match on a fantastic day to get us going in the all-important knockout stage.

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BSB’s Sixers Draft Guide

The Sixers have like 8,752 picks in tonight’s NBA draft, but only two of them are in the first round.  And, since the lottery is the only thing that anyone in the mass media seems to care about, I thought it might be a good idea to

Chad Ford may be the guru of all things NBA draft, but what the hell does he know?  Okay, a lot.  But, there are few “normal” people in this world that watch as much college hoops as your resident BSB’ers, so I thought it made sense to throw together some thoughts about these guys strictly from a “how were they in college?” perspective.  This won’t be a mock draft because I won’t pretend to know the thoughts or needs of each NBA roster, as they currently stand, it will be more of an assessment on how I see this guy’s skills and college performance translates to the next level.  Oh, and if you doubt my credibility about this, just know that I am the guy that predicted Lou Roe would be a better pro than Marcus Camby.  I would like to think I have evolved since then (I was 11 years old), but I guess that remains to be seen…

Think of this as kind of a quick cheat sheet on each guy, as I see it.

SUPERSTARS

Andrew Wiggins
A ridiculous athlete that is getting unneccesarily ripped for his “motor.”  Don’t get me wrong, I think motor (or whatever cliche you want to use for how consistently hard a guy plays) is INCREDIBLY important and almost always undervalued.  I just think that we incorrectly associate “quiet” with lacking motor.  That is NOT the case, and Wiggins has it.  The dude scored 41 points in a game.  Grabbed 18 rebounds in another.  And, blocked 6 shots in yet another one.  And, he’s a freaking wing player who is better on the defensive end than the offensive one.  I think that he will either be the best or second-best player in this draft, depending solely on the health of Joel Embiid.

Jabari Parker
I love Parker’s offensive game.  He will easily be the best offensive player from this draft.  If you told me that he would average 20 ppg for his career, including a stretch of seasons at 25+, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.  And, by all accounts,  he’s a great guy.  But, I watched him all year at Duke, and, honestly, the dude is going to get abused on the defensive end at the next level.  Can he get better?  Sure.  Will he ever be a serviceable NBA defender?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  What he will give you, though, is points, points, and more points.  Which are always nice.

POTENTIAL STARS WITH QUESTION MARKS

Joel Embiid
If you told me that everyone in this draft was going to be healthy for their entire careers, then Joel Embiid would be as much a no-brainer #1 as we have seen since Lebron.  When healthy at Kansas, the dude was ridiculous – and, not just athletically, but skillfully, as well.  And, this is a guy who hadn’t picked up a basketball until about three years ago.  If his body holds up, he’s got what it takes to be legendary.  But, wow, is that a big “if.”  Honestly, if I’m the Sixers at #3, I roll the dice.

Dante Exum
Who knows?  By all accounts, he’s an incredibly smart, heady player who is mature beyond his 18 years, but the question marks are there, particularly the lack of competition.  But, he is 6’6″ and the son of an NBA player, so it’s hard not to fall in love with him.  Plus, people do discount how good that AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) is.  They are REALLY serious about their sports Down Under and that academy is ridiculous.

Aaron Gordon
I LOVE Aaron Gordon.  Part of me wishes the Sixers had the 5th or 6th pick instead of the 3rd because then they could stop this infatuation with Wiggins or temptation of Embiid and just snatch up Aaron Gordon and be happy.  He will never be a big time scorer (don’t get swayed by the “Shawn Marion learned to score” because there is and always will be only one Shawn Marion), but the dude gets after it.  He can defend and rebound on an elite level right now, and he’s only 19.  Throw in the fact that he’s a total gym rat, and I think he will continue to develop into a ridiculously valuable NBA asset.  I can’t imagine him falling past Brad Stevens at #6, but if he does get to the Sixers at #10, it will be a GREAT draft.

Julius Randle
I also LOVE Julius Randle.  Another guy who probably won’t be there at #10, but if he is – GO GET HIM.  I heard someone say that guys who have NBA physicality and play hard are never busts.  And, this guy has it.  He is a grown man with who plays with his hair on fire.  And, I don’t think we have seen his array of skills because Kentucky needed him under the basket, so he never got to show us his perimeter game, which, apparently, is rather refined.  You could see his handle, though, and that was awesome.  God, I love this guy.  I don’t know if I would even have a problem taking him at #3.  He’s awesome.

Noah Vonleh
This stock has risen considerably since the college season ended and, frankly, I am not sure why.  But, then again, the easiest way to tell an NBA fan from a college fan right now is to ask them the following question:  “Randle or Vonleh.”  Anyone with any fandom of the college game will quickly tell you that Randle is a beast and Vonleh is unimpressive.  NBA fans or draftniks will be slower to answer and probably will say Vonleh because of his “skill set.”  Well, all I can go on is what I saw at Indiana, and that was remarkably UNremarkable.  I think the Sixers would be ecstatic to get him at #10 (of which, there is NO chance, from what I hear), but I really hope they don’t take him at #3.

Marcus Smart
I should let Doogan write this one, as he is as big a Marcus Smart fan as I know.  And, for good reason.  The issue with him is a slew of non-issues.  All of the things you hear (particularly the Texas Tech incident) are certainly blown out of proportion.  This guy has be lauded by everyone who has ever coached or played with him as an incredible leader and an incredible person.  But, all of these “isolated” incidents in one INCREDIBLY disappointing sophomore season would be non-issues, independently, but put them together and you start to question his makeup.  Well, you do.  I don’t.  I think the only two things that will keep him from being AT LEAST a decent NBA point guard are his abilities to shoot the ball and defend quicker NBA point guards.  Not his makeup.  Trust me.

MOST LIKELY SIXERS PICKS AT #10

Dario Saric
I know nothing about this guy other than the fact that he could be REALLY good…after at least a year or two stashed overseas.  I think he fits the Sixers at #10 pretty perfectly if they don’t luck into Randle or Gordon.  I want this Saric guy – sight unseen – A LOT more than any of the other guys in this grouping, whom I think are all a little shaky.

Gary Harris
I don’t know why, but I am not sold on Harris at the next level.  I know that he is a good kid, who has a good all-around game, but I don’t like NBA players that don’t have anything that they do at an above-average level.  He’s got average size and is an okay athlete.  He shoots it well, but not spectacularly.  He doesn’t have the handle to play regularly at the point.  He is a good perimeter defender, but not a shut-down kind of a guy.  He rebounds decently for a guard, but doesn’t strike me as someone who will make any difference on the glass in an NBA game.

Nik Stauskas
I was pretty luke-warm – somewhat cold, actually – on Stauskas until I found out that he measured at 6’7″ and crushed the athleticism tests at the combine.  Normally, I put almost no stock into those, but if you tell me that Stauskas is 6’7″ with borderline elite measurables in athleticism, I start to get intrigued.  We have seen his shooting ability from the day he stepped on to the court in Ann Arbor.  He is an elite jumpshooter.  Then, this year, with Trey Burke off to the NBA, we got to saw some elite playmaking ability, as well.  He also showed off an offensive game that was much more than just the shooter that he appeared to be as a freshman.  We also got to see a real spark in him, personally.  The dude has an attitude.  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is something.  If I had to, I think I could really talk myself into Stauskas at the next level.  I still have my concerns, but I think I would take him ahead of both Harris and McDermott.

Doug McDermott
There is almost nothing funnier than listening to how media “experts” talk about guys like McDermott.  Inevitably, the expert either LOVES him and thinks he’s the next Larry Bird or HATES him and thinks he’s the next Adam Morrison.  Occasionally, you will get the “measured” assessment of calling him the next Kyle Korver.  I guess there really are no other possibilities for 6’9″ white guys who can shoot.  Either they’re a white all-time great (“Come on, the guy scored 3,000 points and was basically unstoppable) or they’re a white total bust (“Come on, the guy wasn’t even good enough to be recruited in the Missouri Valley Conference – he only went to Creighton because his dad was the coach”).  The reality is that other than his apparently distinct skin tone, his game doesn’t really resemble Bird or Morrison at all (and, don’t get me started on the LAZY white, Creighton alum Kyle Korver comparisons, because his game is NOTHING like Korver’s).  Anyone who actually watched him play can see that the guy has a style that is pretty unique.  People think he just roams the perimeter waiting for open jumpshots to take over guys 5 inches shorter.  That’s NOT true.  He actually spent most of his time with his back to the basket.  Yes, he is a lights-out shooter from the outside, but he also has a really nice, refined low post game.  All that being said, the dude couldn’t guard anyone in the Missouri Valley.  We all loved Jimmer (oh god, another white guy to compare him to…but, bare with me).  And, trust me, his game is NOTHING like Jimmer’s.  But, remember when we said that there will always be a place in the league for a guy that can routinely score 20 a night?  Well, Jimmer can score 20 a night in the NBA…and there ain’t no place for him because he gives up 40.  I am scared that McDermott might have the same thing going against him here.

USEFUL ROTATION PLAYERS

James Young
I actually really like Young and think he will be a solid NBA player.  I don’t think he’s even close to being worth the 10th pick and sure as hell won’t be there when the Sixers pick again at #32, so it’s a moot point from the Sixers perspective, but I think Young has a solid game that could transition well to the next level.  What he needs is a little meat on his bones.

Tyler Ennis
I’m not a huge fan of Ennis’s game at the next level from the perspective of a starting point guard, but I think he’s certainly capable of being a solid backup point guard, who can defend (we think, though we only saw him in the zone at the ‘Cuse) and distribute.  He also has length and is a good character guy.  Just don’t pick him thinking you’ve solved your point guard concerns.  On second thought, I may have said the same thing about MCW a year ago…and, oh by the way, I might still say that today about the reigning rookie of the year.

ROLLS OF THE DICE

Elfrid Payton
There are very few people who LOVE small-conference basketball more than I do.  And, if you have ever talked to me about college hoops, you probably first heard the names Damian Lillard, C.J. McConnell, and Norris Cole from me.  I LOVED all three of those guys and thought that they would all be really solid NBA players.  (For the record, I also thought that guys like Tony Mitchell, Isaiah Canaan, and Eric Maynor would be solid NBA players…)  Well, Payton should be right up my alley, but I really just don’t get the hype about him right now.  Is he a solid perimeter defender?  Yes.  Is he the next Gary Payton?  I seriously doubt it.  And, even if he was a true lock-down NBA defender on the perimeter, his offensive game is just not very good.  Trust me, I watched a decent amount of Ragin’ Cajun basketball this year.  The dude can’t shoot and is a turnover MACHINE.  He was a liability on the offensive end in the SUN BELT CONFERENCE.  Do we really think he will ever be serviceable in the EASTERN or WESTERN CONFERENCE?  As a late-first, early-second round flyer, he sounds like a GREAT pick.  As a lottery pick (I have seen him going as high as #7 to the Lakers), even this lover of small-school basketball says NO THANKS.

Jusuf Nurkic
I know literally nothing about this guy other than that he’s a legit big man.  If you still think that those are important in today’s NBA, then he might be a nice late-first round pick.

P.J. Hairston
The dude can flat-out score and might be the best pure shooter in the draft (with all due respect to Nick Stauskas).  But, he was kicked out of UNC (not exactly the easiest place to get kicked out of…) and is apparently a pretty terrible person.  If he had even an average head on his shoulders, he might be a legit lottery pick.  But, I wouldn’t go anywhere near him if I were the Sixers, even as an apparent steal at #32.

Kyle Anderson
One of the more bizarre players you will ever watch on a basketball court.  First of all, he’s a 6’9″ point guard who looks like he’s playing in slow motion.  But, he might be the best pure passer that I have seen at the college game in a really long time, and he has an INCREDIBLE basketball IQ.  He is always at the right place at the right time, is a willing rebounder and can shoot a little bit.  He kind of reminds me of a Pepe Sanchez a little bit on the offensive end.  On the defensive end, well, he kind of reminds me of a guy who can’t guard anyone ever at all.

Rodney Hood
I really have no idea what to think of Hood at the next level.  He is a decent shooter with size and is an adequate perimeter defender.  He is also aggressive to the basket.  But, I just don’t see any uniqueness about his game that makes me think that he will really make any impact.  I’d take a shot on him at #32, though I don’t think there’s any chance he gets there.  I think he is very similar to James Young, whom I think is a MUCH better prospect.

Mitch McGary
Don’t let one NCAA Tournament run fool you.  McGary had an up-and-down college career with more downs than ups.  Oh, and he missed his whole sophomore season because of a recurring back injury.  His skills are enticing (mainly because he’s got that Kevin Love big man passing ability), but he’s really not worth taking a flyer because even at his best, he barely looks like a reliable rotation guy to me.

DOES COLLEGE TRANSLATE?

Adreian Payne
I don’t think I have ever seen anyone improve over their college career as much as Adreian Payne did.  He turned himself into an elite college player by his senior year.  And – one of the most amazing things I have heard – he played his whole senior year with mono.  There is no doubt that Payne is a stellar guy with a great work ethic who has maximized his ability.  But, that’s kind of the problem.  Just like guys like DeJuan Blair and Jared Sullinger were, Payne is pretty much a finished product.  Is that product good enough to get decent minutes in the NBA?  Yes, I think so.  But, there is no star potential here.  He is what he is – which is a pretty good ballplayer.

Shabazz Napier
We all saw the Shabazz on display in the NCAA Tournament.  But, beware of over-hyping someone because of 6 games.  Was Napier one of the better on-court leaders in recent collegiate memory?  Absolutely.  Did he play incredibly well on both ends of the floor?  Without a doubt.  Is that going to make him a superstar at the next level?  Who knows.  I know everyone loves leadership, and generally, it is for good reason.  But, when it comes to jumping to the next level, not only do I think it’s overstated, but I think it might actually be dangerous.  Shabazz Napier is a tremendous leader for a team where he is The Man.  When everyone looks at him and says “you are our best player, we will follow you.”  Is Napier going to walk into an NBA locker room and be the best player?  Not even close (particularly in Miami, where he seems most coveted).  Will he be the same kind of person playing 15-20 minutes, mostly without the ball in his hands, guarding the other team’s weaker perimeter player?  I don’t know.  And, neither does anyone else.  I am not saying that he won’t be phenomenal as a role player, but are we really to believe that the character that it takes to lead is the exact same character that it takes to follow?

Jordan Adams
Adams is a terrific basketball player.  Period.  You are going to hear all sorts of things about his lack of athleticism and quickness.  But, the fact of the matter is that if you’re trying to round out a roster of the best basketball players, I find it hard to believe that Adams won’t be useful.  Will a 6’5″ shooting guard that can’t dunk be a superstar?  Absolutely not.  Can Jordan Adams be a useful 9th or 10th man?  I think so.

MY SLEEPERS

T.J. Warren
He may have climbed too high to be called a “sleeper,” but the kid can flat out play.  And, it is not like he should be an unknown, he was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year.  And, the dude can flat-out score.  He has deficiencies elsewhere in his game that makes it completely feasible that he is never even a regular starter in the league, but there is always room for a guy that is a decent ballhandler and defender, but can absolutely light up the scoresheet.  8 points and 2 assists in 15-18 minutes every night with at least serviceable perimeter defense?  There are a lot of guys in the league that give you less.  If he flips to #32, the Sixers should be elated to snap him up.

K.J. McDaniels
Now, this guy probably will constitute a “sleeper.”  I love McDaniels.  He’s a freak athlete, but also showed a surprisingly refined game this year at Clemson.  Very few people know anything about him because the Tigers were bad (and run a crazy slow offense), but I actually thought he was more deserving of ACC POY than Warren.  He is one of those guys that can do it all and probably play any of three positions (1,2,3) at both ends.  Someone is going to be really happy with their late-first, early-second round pick here.

Jarnell Stokes
I admit it.  Stokes is probably one of the many “big” men that are plenty big for even the biggest of college conferences and just not “big” enough for the NBA.  That being said, as the league goes smaller, it is not out of the question that you can sneak Stokes into your lineup as an undersized 5-man.  And, while he’s not really athletic enough to guard on the perimeter, he does have a decent 15-18 foot jumpshot.  I think, given the minutes, I could see him scoring 8-12 points a night.  And, we haven’t even talked about what makes him great (and will give him a place in this league) – he is one of the best pure rebounders that I have seen in a long time.  He is one of those guys that just has a knack for rebounding.  And, that plays on any level.  I would not be surprised if Stokes is still getting decent minutes in the 2020-21 NBA season for someone.  And, that’s value in the second round.

Jordan Clarkson
I like Clarkson a lot, actually.  He is big and almost freakishly athletic, and he’s a better scorer than he seems to be getting credit for.  I also think that people are underestimating his playmaking ability.  This is another guy that the Sixers should RUN to the podium to draft if he’s still on the board at #32.

Nick Johnson
I have no idea if his game translates to the pros, but he was quietly AWESOME at Arizona.  He was a quiet leader who can do just about anything you ask of him.  While his offensive game is lacking all-around, he may grow into a killer on defense.  I have heard nothing more than mid-second for Johnson, and I think someone may get a STEAL if they use a 2nd-rounder on him.  I hope it’s the Sixers (don’t they have the whole second round?)

Spencer Dinwiddie
While I’m not sure if there’s a place for Johnson, I am sure that – if healthy – there is a place in the league for Dinwiddie.  He’s a legitimate combo guard that can score from mid-range and beyond.  A big guard with a supreme shooting touch and great court awareness should be in the NBA somewhere.

C.J. Wilcox
There is always room for a guy who can flat-out shoot.  He’s not Klay Thompson, but he could be a poor man’s version.  Maybe…

Jahii Carson
I love this kis and realize that he’s TINY.  But, I think there’s a place in the league for a guy who distributes and scores the way he does.  Will he get abused on the defensive end?  Probably.  I still like him.

EHHH…

Jerami Grant
I’ve seen him everywhere from lottery to backend of the second round.  Either way, he should have stayed in school.  He’s got bust written all over him as a first-rounder, and intrigure written all over him as a second.

Glenn Robinson III
I was just never impressed.  He has all the physical tools (and obviously the bloodlines).  And, I guess at #32, I’d be okay with it, but ehhh…

LaQuinton Ross
No thanks.  Never liked him at OSU, and I have no reason to believe he’ll be any good at the next level.

INTERNATIONAL MYSTERIES

Clint Capela
I have no idea who this guy is.  It sounds like he is a LONG way from playing here anyway.

Damien Inglis
Apparently, this guy has an NBA-ready body at 19.  He’s raw, but promising.  Sounds like he’d be a nice lottery ticket to own.

Nikola Jokic
A skilled big man?  That’s so European…

INTRIGUING

Cleanthony Early
Here’s another one where I really have no idea.  My instincts say he’s just too small to really make it in the league, but he has a fascinating versatile game that is fun to watch.  I’m rooting for him, that’s for sure.

Johnny O’Bryant
O’Bryant is a beast inside that should have stayed at LSU.  He’s a project, but has a TON of ability.  Take a flyer here; you may be glad you did.

DeAndre Daniels
Looked great in the tournament.  Has tantalizing skills.  Needed another year at UConn.

Deonte Burton
The dude can flat-out play.  Not an incredible shooter, but a great athlete with good court vision and really knows the game.

Russ Smith
After all, he is Russ-diculous.

Dwight Powell
Very cerebral player who has a versatile game that would probably translate somewhat.  I wonder about his drive, though.

Keith Appling
Hey, we haven’t really seen him healthy in two years.  I don’t think he’s good enough, but it wouldn’t shock me.

Cory Jefferson
Just a freak of an athlete at his size.  I guarantee he’ll get a shot.  And, he’ll probably screw it up because, well, that’s what he does.

Deandre Kane
Kane might just be one of those guys that is so good in college and just doesn’t have “it” – whatever “it” is – to stick in the NBA.  But, trust me, this guy wasn’t just good his senior year at Iowa State, he was DOMINANT for three years are Marshall before that.  He is almost the definition of a “do-it-all” point guard.  He scores, he creates, he rebounds, he defends, and he leads.  I would give him a shot on my team any day.

C.J. Fair
Here’s another guy who probably won’t make the league, and I won’t know why.  What I do know is that someone, somewhere on this planet, will be paying C.J. Fair to play basketball for their team.  But, it’ll probably be in Greece or Spain.

Melvin Ejim
Kane’s teammate at Iowa State, Ejim is very intriguing to me.  He’s big with a great scoring touch (he went for 40 one night this year).  He’s probably too small to play inside and too slow to play outside, but he really can do both rather well.  It’s a shame that he probably can’t do either well enough.

OTHERS

Semaj Christon
Crazy athlete with a dynamic game.  He could use a couple more inches, but I wouldn’t be surprised (or upset if it were the Sixers) to see him taken in the mid-second.

James Michael McAdoo
Stay away.  The dude stinks.  And, the worst part about it is that he doesn’t care that he stinks.

Roy Devyn Marble
Probably simply not good enough to play in the league, but he’s got a great game and will score a TON of points overseas.

Jordan McRae
If he only played defense…  McRae can shoot more than his bruising frame suggests.  He could use a little more focus on his floorgame and a lot more attention to the defensive end.  But, the kid might be worth a flyer because he has skills that very few human beings in this world possess.

Khem Birch
Intriguing athlete with a crazy long wingspan.  All you hear about these days is “rim protector” this or “rim protector” that.  Well, he is a rim protector.  He doesn’t really do ANYTHING else, but he does protect the rim.

Bryce Cotton
This is another one that makes me sad to know that there is no room for Bryce Cotton in the pros.  If Cotton can’t score 15 a night in the NBA (and, he probably can’t), then those pros are SCARY good because this kid is a scoring machine – who can also distribute rather well, when he wants to.  He’s not a good defender and probably won’t make a roster, but I’ll miss watching him fill it up at Providence.

Joe Harris
“Joe College Player” will be missed in the college game and almost assuredly won’t be missed from the professional game.  Harris is one of those guys that I wish had like 8 years of college eligibility.

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2014 World Cup – Group G (Day Three Preview)

This post will be updated as Group G progresses…

Group G Preview (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, USA)
The proverbial “Group of Death.”  Now, obviously, it is not good for the American chances to be placed in such a ridiculous group, but it also should be looked at as subtle praise from the worldwide community.  If Team USA was given no respect, then this would not exactly be a “Group of Death” now would it?  That being said, the Stars & Bars are decided underdogs to get out of this group and may be the fourth-best team in the group.  Germany would be the class of any group they are in, as they are here to win the whole thing, not just survive some difficult group.  Portugal is now quite as strong as they have been in the past, but they do boast a transcendent player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and a wealth of talent elsewhere on the roster.  (While we’re here, I just have to say that it seems ridiculous that Portugal never gets a spot in that top bucket for the draw.  It almost assures that they will be in a ridiculous group because they are of the quality of the top teams and yet are selected amongst teams like Algeria, Croatia, and Greece.)  And, then there is the Ghana team that has eliminated Team USA in the past two World Cups and might have their best team ever.  I feel worse for the Ghanaians to have to be in this group than anyone because they can really make some noise in this tournament if their group position was switched with, say, Nigeria or Cameroon.  In the end, ‘ze Germans are clearly strong enough to survive any group, even this one, and the Portugese are probably the best bet to be the other qualifier.  Though, if they stumble, both USA and Ghana are both good enough to qualify.  Just getting out of the group stage here for the Red, White, and Blue would be quite the accomplishment.

6/16, noon – Germany vs. Portugal
What an incredible match to kick off the “Group of Death.”  With all respect to Spain-Netherlands, this is probably the best match of the entire group stage.  I am glad that it is an opening match because if this were Day Three or even Day Two, these two sides could just sit back and be content with a draw.  But, hopefully, the excitement of the moment and the fact that this is such a tough group and this is only the first match will lead to some wide open play from two sides that can really excite.  Anything can happen here and a loss here wouldn’t be the end of the world for either side, but Germany certainly has to be considered the favorites here, so a draw would be more uplifting for Portugal than Germany.  A Portugal win would definitely force the rest of the field to take notice both of the Portugese success and the Germans rough start.

Germany 4 – Portugal 0
I don’t claim to be a soccer officianado.  And, I don’t even follow club soccer.  But, I have now paid very serious attention to the last 5 major international tournaments (the World Cups in ’06, ’10, and ’14 and the Euro Championships in ’08 and ’12), and there is one thing to which I have grown all to accustomed.  While ultra-talented and experienced, the Portugese squad simply wilts under any adversity.  The minute things go south, they lose their heads and they fail to execute.  I have no idea why this is, but it is almost a given.  Another thing I have learned is that, if you don’t stay focused defensively, the Germans could drop a 4=spot on you in a HURRY.  Both of those things showed through in spades in the first game of Group G, as the Germans looked incredibly sharp and the Portugese gave an incredibly embarrassing performance.  For fans of the USA, this game couldn’t have gone better, as not only did Portugal lose by 4, but three key contributors will probably miss Sunday’s match with the USA, due to injuries and a red card to Pepe.  Germany made a statement here, and I’m guessing it was heard loud and clear around Group G and beyond.

6/16, 6:00 – Ghana vs. USA
Starting with Ghana could be a blessing or a curse for our national team.  One, it allows the US to get its easiest match of the tournament out of the way early.  However, this “easiest match” is really, really tough, so a defeat here might effectively end the tournament the same day it starts for our hometown boys.  And, a defeat here is certainly in the cards.  The Ghanaians are pretty much in the exact same position, as this is their easiest match, as well, so both teams will be desperate to get a good result here in advance of dates with a pair of World Top 5s.  This may actually be one of those matches where both teams really need 3 – which is a recipe for some terrific entertainment.  I think a draw here might spell trouble for both squads, where at least if there is a winner, that side will have a real shot to make it through.  Either way, it should be interesting.  And, either way, I’m so torn because these are the two teams I most strongly support in this year’s field.  Obviously, as an American, I want my country to acquit itself well, but I also have a real soft spot for West Africa and, Ghana, in particular, having lived for two years in the neighboring Togo.  Is it out of the question that these two teams could actually be the two knockout stage representatives from Group H?  Uh…ya, probably.

USA 2 – Ghana 1
This is probably the first match all tournament where the winning side was clearly outplayed all game.  The Americans shot out like a rocket, scoring in :29 seconds, but then went on to be thoroughly dominated for about 85 minutes.  Fortunately, for the Stars & Stripes, they only conceded one Ghanaian goal (Tim Howard is RIDICULOUS) and ended up scoring another one of their own in the 86th minute.  You have to hand it to guys like Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, who played out of their minds on defense.  However, on a day that was almost entirely great for the Americans, there was some bad news, as Jozy Altidore – probably the least replaceable player on the American side – may be lost for the tournament.  Still, this was a GIGANTIC three points for the Patriots and a crushing blow to Ghana, who has to somehow regroup in time for a crazy difficult match with Germany where a loss would all but end their tournament.

Day One Recap
Day One sure threw the Group of Death for a loop, as the Portugese had a nightmare of a day, while the Americans had the perfect opening day.  While the Germans reaffirmed that they were the class of this very difficult group, Team USA may have established itself as the odds-on favorite to qualify behind ‘Ze Germans here.  Portugal’s disaster, however, will be all but forgotten if they can come through with a pair of victories over USA and Ghana.  The Ghanaians must be sick about their result, as they dominated the Americans in a loss and with Portugal wounded, that second spot could have easily been theirs.  Now, they have a date with Germany where they have to get a point or go home.

6/21, 3:00 – Germany vs. Ghana
The Ghanaians certainly have the backs against the wall here, now, after dominating the Americans only to come away with nothing.  The Germans, who embarrassed Portugal, 4-0, in the opener present a ridiculously tough challenge here if Ghana is really going to try and make it out of the Group of Death.  A draw here would be an extraordinary effort for one of Africa’s elite sides, and that still might not be enough to get them through.  Fans of the US should be rooting hard for Germany here because the best shot the Americans have of pulling out a point in the final match against the Germans is if they have very little to play for.  Hell a red card for Mueller or Ozul or something like that wouldn’t hurt, either, haha.

Germany 2 – Ghana 2
Doogan said he missed the second half of this match, well, my friend, you probably missed the best 45 minutes of soccer we have seen yet in Brazil.  After an interesting, but relatively uneventful first half, the second half was THRILLING.  Both sides had leads; both sides were attacking and showing individual brilliance as well as team brilliance.  In the end, the Ghanaians got what they needed to stay alive (though a second yellow for Sully Mutari in stoppage time could really hurt going forward in their final match with Portugal).  It was a little disappointing for the Black Stars, as they did hold a lead late, but a loss would have been devastating, so they will take it.  The Germans are now sitting on 4 points with a date with the Americans and a goal differential advantage, so their mission is clear – draw with Team USA and win the group.

6/22, 6:00 – Portugal vs. USA
The one we are all waiting for comes Sunday evening.  Cristiano Ronaldo and his band of frustrated Portugese take on America’s Team, fresh off being dominated in their 2-1 victory over Ghana.  Fortune seems to be smiling on the Stars and Stripes, as Portugal may be without at least 3 important players (Pepe due to a red card and two others due to injury).  Ronaldo also was reported to leave a recent practice with a knee injury, but it is hard to believe that he won’t be suited up and ready to go.  What Coach Klinsmann does about the Jozy Altidore injury should be really interesting, as Aron Johannson looked overmatched against Ghana, and there are no other real options on the roster.  As much talk as there is about the team right now, there is no doubt that the Portugese are decided favorites in this match.  But, then again, one quick goal seems to unravel the Portugese at these major tournaments, so we will see if the boys can strike quickly again.

Portugal 2 – USA 2
There is no doubt that the US got a draw out of a match where they played considerably better than they did in their opening victory.  This was a very encouraging draw, despite the fact that they gave up a terrible goal in the 5th minute and blew a lead in the 95th minute.  Jermaine Jones (who has been the player player on the roster so far for the Americans) looked really good, while Clint Dempsey continued to look like a bonafied world class creator up front.  Michael Bradley looked better in this one than his nightmarish performance against Ghana, which is a good sign, and Tim Howard continues to show why he is one of the best in the world at tending net.  While the Americans were literally seconds away from qualification, and the Portugese were seconds away from elimination, things are still looking good for Team USA.  First of all, all they need to do to advance is to draw against a Germany team that only needs a draw to win the group.  But, even if they lose to Germany, they should retain a considerable enough goal differential advantage over Portugal to carry the day.  The real concern for the Americans now is if Ghana goes out and gets a multi-goal victory over Portugal and the USA loses to Germany, the Ghanaians could go through.  But, right now, the smart money should be on Germany winning the group and the USA following them to the knockout stage where they would take on a yet-to-get-going Belgium side.

Day Two Recap
What a fascinating round of 2-2 draws.  Honestly.  Maybe the three best matches of the tournament were all draws (I think these two are probably a half-step behind the Mexico-Brazil 0-0 draw, which I still believe was the best match of the tournament thus far).  This might be the most fascinating groups left entering the final round of matches.  Germany and the USA are sitting on 4 points, while Ghana and Portugal are on 1.  The leaders play each other and the chasers play each other.  So, the stage is set for great theatrics on Thursday afternoon.  Obviously, a Ghana-Portugal draw would eliminate both sides (which means we could see some crazy, wide-open play), while a Germany-USA draw would qualify both sides (which means we could see some boring, conservative play).  With Germany holding the edge in goal differential, they have nothing to gain from winning over drawing, and with the Americans happy to get through, things are set up nicely for a draw there.  If your an American fan and you are worried about getting beat by Germany, the real hope here is to just keep it close and root for Portugal to beat (but not blow out) Ghana.  This should be great!

6/26, noon – Germany vs. USA
6/26, noon – Ghana vs. Portugal

There is some intrigue here in Group G, but not as much as one might think.  With Germany only needing a draw to win the group, and the USA only needing a draw to qualify (which is fine with them), there is a VERY high likelihood that this game will end in a draw.  I am sick of people here coming to the same conclusion and then insinuating some sort of collusion.  There is no collusion here.  Just think about it this way – Germany will be no better with a win than a draw.  The USA, while advantaged by a win, would not consider winning the group as much of a positive as missing the group would be a negative.  So, they would be very content with a draw.  That doesn’t mean that the teams will just kick the ball around for 90 minutes and call it a day, but what it DOES mean is that both sides are likely to approach the game from the opening minute AS IF THEY HELD A 1-0 LEAD.  Does that mean that neither team will try and score?  Not at all.  Does that mean that neither team will score?  Absolutely not.  We see 1-0 games get tied 1-1 all the time.  We also see 1-0 games go to 2-0.  However, teams do change the way they play based on being ahead, behind, or tied, right?  Teams up a goal get a little more conservative and defensive-minded, while the team that is down gets more aggressive in their attacks even though it might leave them vulnerable on the back side.  Well, in a case like this BOTH teams will play as if they held the lead.  That does not – in any way – GUARANTEE a draw, but it certainly increases its likelihood.  And, unless there is a result in the Germany-USA match, this group is decided.  If there is a result (much more likely a German win than an American one), then it really comes down to Ghana.  For the reasons described above, it is VERY unlikely that the Germany-USA game is a rout, so if there is a result, let’s assume a 1-0 Germany win.  That means that for Portugal to qualify, they would need to beat Ghana by 4+ goals.  That is highly unlikely, so Portugal is an incredible longshot.  Ghana, on the other hand, does have a shot.  They would either need to beat Portugal by 2+ goals or win a 1-goal game in which they scored at least 2.  If they win 1-0 and Germany wins 1-0, the USA still goes through on the strength of the third tiebreaker – head-to-head.  Let us just say that the Americans are VERY safe right now.  So safe, in fact, that Vegas has set the line at -900 that Team USA qualifies for the knockout stage.  That means that to win $100 by the US qualifying, you would have to risk $900!  This group is essentially over.  Germany will be G1, and USA will be G2.  Write it in – save yourself some vacation time for the knockout stage.

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2014 World Cup – Group H (Day Three Preview)

This post will be updated as Group H progresses.

Group H Preview (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea)
The final group kicks off on Tuesday, as we welcome the very popular sleeper pick, Belgium, to the dance.  Doogan has been talking up this Belgium team for a long time now, and it seems the rest of us casual fans have caught up to him on them, as they are now generally considered only about a half-step down from the “Big Four” favorites in this tournament (Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany).  Having literally never seen a soccer match that included a Belgian team, I am very eager to see what all this hype is about.  And, not only are they talented, but they were placed in one of the easier groups.  It would be a real surprise if they didn’t come out as the Group H champion.  Russia is probably the next best team in this group, and they are nowhere near an elite level.  Algeria might be dangerous (and my pick as the second qualifier from Group H), as the Algerians have finally started being able to allure many of the French-raised Algerians to come play for the national team across the Sea.  Imagine if they had been able to do this a couple decades ago and lured players like Zinedine Zidane and others to come play for Algeria.  The course of soccer history would have been different.  The fourth team is also not a pushover, in South Korea, but they are not exactly a juggernaut, either.  There are no free points in this group, but also no one that should present any real challenge to the Belgians.

6/17, noon – Algeria vs. Belgium
The much-anticipated debut of the Belgians comes here as the final group opens this afternoon.  Belgium, with their high expectations, has to deal with an Algerian side that can really give problems.  Then again, the Algerians were a shot off the post away from not even making the Cup in their qualifier against Burkina Faso (who has never made the World Cup).  There is no doubt that anything shy of 3 points here for the Belgians would be a disappointment, and, on the flip side, a draw would be huge for Algeria.

Belgium 2 – Algeria 1
Well, Algeria came to play and nearly stole a point here.  They defensive style was causing fits for a Belgium team that looked – for a half – like the weight of expectations was weighing them down.  But, they came out determined in the second half and showed that they are just flat-out better than their Algerian counterparts.  The questions about Belgium’s chances to really threaten for a World Cup championship were certainly not answered by this somewhat shaky victory, but a win is a win and the first match for inexperienced players with the weight of a nation on their shoulders cannot be easy.  As for Algeria, I think they acquitted themselves well here and probably made people who believe that they can get out of this group (including Yours Truly) feel pretty good about that opinion.

6/17, 6:00 – Russia vs. South Korea
With Belgium as clearly the class of this group and the other three sides all relatively equal, the three matches that do not include Belgium are all going to be enormous in deciding the second qualifier from this wide open group.  Russia, as the better side here, is really looking for 3 points, while the Koreans would probably be okay with a draw, though are probably also looking to pick up 3.  This doesn’t have all that much cache on paper, but might be a pretty entertaining game if they decide to open up and play.

Russia 1 – South Korea 1
There is no doubt that the Russians are better and were better on this day.  But, the very first game after the most incredible goalkeeping performance I have ever seen came maybe the worst overall goalkeeping performance I have seen.  And, it wasn’t just the ridiculous goal that the Russian keeper allowed (a soft shot that went right through his hands), but it was a slew of miscues that led up to that.  Fortunately for Igor the Keeper, his teammates sort of bailed him out by scoring shortly after his debacle.  But, it is hard not to think that goalkeeping is the reason that the Russians only have 1 point right now and not 3.  Then again, with all the chances they had, they should have put more than one into the back of the net.  It was domination from the start and yet it ended with a draw.  A nice point for the Koreans, as they now have a shot to get out of this group.

Day One Recap
I have to say that Group H probably gave us the lowest quality of soccer of any of the groups – at least according to this untrained eye.  The Belgians did not live up to expectations, though they got their 3 points against a decent Algerian squad.  The Russia-South Korea match, while entertaining, was not played at an incredibly high level.  I still think that the Russians are probably the most likely side to come out of the group after Belgium, but their draw with Korea means that they may have to either beat Algeria outright – a feat that did not look incredibly easy given how the two sides performed on Day One.

6/22, noon – Belgium vs. Russia
These are supposed to be the two best sides of this group, but after the first round of matches, Algeria looks like they may be the front-runner to take the second qualifying position, not Russia.  Though, obviously, most of that will be decided on the pitch when the two sides face off on the final day of group play.  As for now, the Russians will have to regroup from a disappointing draw with Korea and try to eke out a point against a Belgian side that looks to be the class of this group.  Belgium actually went down to Algeria, but rallied for two second-half goals to pull out the victory.  Another 3 points here should lock up the group for everybody’s favorite “sleeper.”  A draw would be okay for Belgium, considering they already beat Algeria and only have Korea left, but they really should outclass the Russians and take the 3 points.  Russia would probably be perfectly content with a draw.

 Belgium 1 – Russia 0
A late goal saves the Belgians, crushes the Ruskies, and wins me money.  Our beer- and chocolate-loving friends came through again with an unimpressive victory against a side, though, that is better than people may give credit for.  Russia, while playing 23 players that all play domestically (the only side in the tournament that can say that), is still a threat to get through and would be a tough draw in any group.  Algeria is also not a pushover, so the two Belgium wins, while not making headlines for their brilliance, are not all that uninspiring.  Now, having already qualified, they will try and finish it off by winning the group in order to escape a date with Germany in the Round of 16.  Russia is still very much alive and probably playing a win-and-you’re-in match with Algeria in the final round.

6/22, 3:00 – Algeria vs. South Korea
Again, I am not sure why Vegas has Korea favored in this one, but I definitely placed a solid wager on the Algerian side here.  The Desert Foxes looked rather solid against Belgium in defeat, while Korea was rather fortunate to get some abysmal goalkeeping by the Russians to give them a point.  After a close loss to Belgium and in advance of a huge match with Russia, the Algerians need to stay focused and come to play and pick up 3 points that are well within reach here.  The Koreans, while looking like the worst of the four sides in this group, do officially sit at 1 point, so if they can get a win here, they can put themselves in really good position for a surprise qualification out of Group H.

Algeria 4 – South Korea 2
The Desert Foxes made national history and continental history on this day, as they won their first ever World Cup match and, in the process, became the first African side to ever net 4 goals in a WC match.  And, they could have had more.  They were all over the Korean defense from the opening kick.  They did not exactly have their patented stingy defense, but that may be a product of going up early.  They did get an important 3 points and now face Russia in an elimination game for the second spot from this group.  A draw or win for the North Africans would put them through.

Day Two Recap
As Doogan aptly put it, let’s not get too hasty on our citing the Belgian performance thus far as “disappointing,” seeing as they have 6 points, are going to win the group, and couldn’t really have done more.  As he mentioned, Spain is out, Brazil and Germany have just 4 points and are still in danger or elimination, and the Argentines, while sitting on 6, have not exactly looked great against competition worse than the Belgians have faced.  As for the Group H also-rans, the Koreans, expectedly, are a non-factor (making that draw against Russia look even more devastating for the Ruskies than it did previously), and Algeria and Russia will sort it all out on the pitch.  Algeria – who, frankly, has looked the considerably better side – will only need a draw to get through, while Russia and their high hopes need to beat the Desert Foxes to qualify.  Either way, don’t expect any second-place side from Group H to make any noise, as they are likely staring at a Round of 16 date with ‘Ze Germans.

6/26, 4:00 – Algeria vs. Russia
6/26, 4:00 – Belgium vs. South Korea

This group is harkening back to the first couple of groups, where the top and bottom sides were all but set and the second qualification would be decided on the pitch.  Belgium is going to win this group, while South Korea is going home.  The only question that remains is who will be the second qualifier – Algeria or Russia?  And, that will be decided on the pitch at 4:00.  This is an interesting match between an Algeria side that has looked a LOT better than most people thought they would (not this guy, though – I believed) and a Russian side that has not looked all that good.  Algeria will go through with a draw, so they may pack it in (which they like to do anyway), while Russia should get out and attack.  The best-case scenario for the viewer is if Russia scores early.  That could open up the match, and we could see some up-and-down play.  But, it is more likely that the Desert Foxes bunker down and put up their wall.  I like Algeria to either get the draw they need or maybe even win the match with a well-timed counterattack.  Hell, I have a bet on them at 30-1 to win this group, which is still a possibility, but would require a South Korean win over Belgium.

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2014 World Cup – Group F (FINAL)

This post will be updated as Group F progresses.

Group F Preview (Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)
The Argentina group is just a pretty insignificant battle for that second spot, as the Argentines are BY FAR the class of this group and they are playing rather close to home.  Both Doogan and I have Messi & Co. going to the finals, and I can’t imagine many people not taking them to win this group.  Iran is not very good.  Nigeria is not very good.  That leaves a pretty nice situation for an up-and-coming Bosnian squad to get into the knockout round.

6/15, 6:00 – Argentina vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Argentina should come out with a clean 9 points, but if not, this might be the match that ruins that.  The Bosnian side has been playing well of late, though they are nowhere near the caliber of Argentina.  A point here for Bosnia – however unlikely that may be – might be all they need to secure that second spot from this group.

Argentina 2 – Bosnia & Herzegovina 1
Lionel Messi showed why he is considered the greatest player in the world, as he dominated the Bosnian midfielders all game and scored what proved to be a very important (and utterly beautiful) second goal in the 65th minute.  Argentina jumped in front 1-0 early, but seemed to settle in a little too much before Messi’s goal.  Bosnia added one late and even threatened a couple times for an equalizer, but in the end, it was 3 nice points for the Argentines.  Overall, however, I have to say it was a relatively unimpressive win for Argentina, but that may just be a case of Bosnia being really solid.  This match just reinforced my belief that Bosnia will be in the knockout stage as the second representative from this group.

6/16, 3:00 – Iran vs. Nigeria
This is one of the worst matches that the 2014 World Cup offers.  Neither of these sides are very good, though I do think Nigeria has a shot to steal the second spot from this group from Bosnia.  They will need 3 points here, though.  If Iran is going to make it out of this group, 3 points here is probably a must.

Iran 0 – Nigeria 0
Well, I have a new least-favorite team, and it is Iran.  I don’t really mind the Greek style of playing defense and counter-attacking.  I really DO mind the Iranian style of playing defense and NOT counter-attacking.  It was incredibly boring and a little disappointing that they seemed completely content with a 0-0 draw.  I am all for doing whatever it takes to give your team the best chance to win, but to simply show up at the World Cup trying to draw 0-0 seems very disappointing to me.  That being said, the Nigerians completely dominated this game and really should have had at least 1-2 goals, but simply failed to execute.  As much as I blame the Iranian style of play for this 0-0 draw, I also blame the lack of execution and scoring ability of the Nigerians.  It was an overall disappointing result for the Super Eagles.

Day One Recap
The one side that actually lost today probably made the most progress here in this group, as the Bosnians played right with Argentina, while the Iranians look like they’re content in just showing up to this Cup, and the Nigerians look unable to make any real waves here.  I am more convinced today that it will be Argentina and B&H to come out of Group F than I was previously.

6/21, noon – Argentina vs. Iran
This is probably the worst match of the entire group stage, as the Iranians are going to be so outclassed here, it is ridiculous.  They can play all the boring, conservative defense they want, they will not pull out their coveted 0-0 draw here.

Argentina 1 – Iran 0
“They can play all the boring, conservative defense they want, they will not pull out their coveted 0-0 draw here.”  Some genius said that before this match, and if not for Lionel Messi’s brilliance, he would have looked like the second dumbest person in the world predicting this game behind the dude that put $350,000 on Argentina to win $30,000 – which he won, but probably cost himself 10 years off his life in the process.  (By the way, the novice soccer fan I am can see how Messi – and Ronaldo – are just playing the game on another level; they seem to be the only ones I have seen that do not almost entirely rely on other players on the pitch).  Anyway, Iran is actually alive in this group, despite not really even coming close to scoring a goal.  Argentina, more importantly, has looked rather unimpressive in two touchy victories over Croatia and Iran, but 6 points is 6 points.  They should consider themselves fortunate to be in such a soft group.  Then again, nothing makes me think that they are any less of a threat to win the whole thing, but that might be my Western sports mentality of “survive and advance.”  That doesn’t seem to resonate as much with the international soccer community, who more believes in their teams being “in good form.”

6/21, 6:00 – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Nigeria
Nigeria had a very disappointing 0-0 draw against Iran, but they played somewhat well and had many chances.  They did not convert any, which is partly on them, but we should not give up on them quite yet.  Bosnia actually played rather well in a 2-1 loss to Argentina and are certainly very much in the mix to take that second spot out of this group, especially considering the Nigeria draw with Iran.  The Bosnias only lost by 1 goal to Argentina and still have Iran to come, so they may only need to draw here with Nigeria, who only drew with Iran and still have Argentina ahead.  So, while the Nigerians will certainly be pushing for a much-needed 3 points, the Bosnians will be content to sit back and take counter-attack chances when they come.  This is one of the more interesting and important matches of the second round of action.

Nigeria 1 – Bosnia & Herzegovina 0
Pride for the Africans!  Nigeria snaps a 10-game winless streak at the World Cup and puts themselves in the driver’s seat to earn a spot in the knockout stage.  For all of their offensive frustration against Iran, though, it is not like they seemed to solve anything here, as they still only put one shot in the back of the net, and it was a questionable one, at that, as it seemed to some that Emenike (who was BY FAR the best player on the pitch on this day) may have committed a foul before the pass that netted the game’s only goal.  More officiating heartache for the Bosnians, who just a couple minutes prior, had a perfectly legal goal called back on a bogus offsides call.  This frustrating World Cup will end for the Bosnias regardless of their result with Iran.  The Nigerians, on the other hand, only need a draw with Argentina (tall task) and maybe not even that to get through.

Day Two Recap
Well, the Bosnians still appear to be the second-best side in this group and yet they are the only ones eliminated here after the second round of matches.  The Argentines are through to the Round of 16, despite looking shaky in both contests.  They are still incredibly dangerous and Messi seems quite “on form,” so the world should take notice – especially the Swiss, who are the likely Round of 16 opponent for Messi & Co.  Things look really good for Nigeria, who may have played themselves into a Round of 16 date with France.

6/25, noon – Argentina vs. Nigeria
6/25, noon – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Nigeria

Somehow, there really isn’t a whole lot going on here in Group F.  Argentina has already clinched advancement to the knockout round and only need to draw with a subpar Nigeria side to win the group (which would be adviseable considering the second-place side here will likely face an so far impressive French side in the Round of 16).  Nigeria – despite an underwhelming performance thus far – looks in really good shape to advance on the heels of their win over Bosnia because any result against the Argentines puts them through, but as long as they stay relatively close to avoid getting caught by Iran.  Then again, getting caught by Iran would require Iran winning and Iran winning would require Iran scoring, which they have shown absolutely no ability (or desire) to do thus far.  They will probably take their 0-0 draw and go home thinking that 2 points and 0 goals was some sort of success.

Argentina 3 – Nigeria 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 3 – Iran 1
Lionel Messi is leaving no doubt as to who the best player in the world is.  He has been – without a doubt – the best player in this tournament and has led his otherwise unimpressive side to a sweep of Group F.  Messi has already scored 4 times (at least 3 of which were entirely of his own creation), including at least once in all 3 matches.  And, they were gigantic goals, as the Argentines won each of their three matches by a single goal.  Messi scored twice in the first half against Nigeria (in a game that was tied 1-1 by the 5th minute), both of which were needed, as the Africans put two in the back of the Argentine net.  In the end, it was too much Argentina, but Nigeria looked good again and moves on to the knockout stage.  The other big story is that Iran actually scored!  They also gave up 3 to B&H, as the Iranians exit the Cup with an unimpressive 1 point.  They probably looked better than Cameroon, so you can put them at 31st from this tournament.  B&H looks good enough to play in the knockout phase, but it wasn’t meant to be in this, their debut World Cup.

Group F Final Recap
1. Argentina
– Messi almost single-handedly swept this group.  It was almost assuredly the weakest group, though, so the Argentines will need to play better than they have if they want to win the whole thing – which is absolutely their goal.  While their group play was soft, their path through the knockout stage will not be.  They will open with a very tricky Round of 16 match against a solid Switzerland squad followed by a potential quarterfinal date with either Belgium or the second team from Group G (likely now to be the Stars & Stripes, but it could also be Ghana or even Germany or Portugal).  The performances they have put in so far will not get the job done as the competition gets much stiffer.

2. Nigeria – The only African side to qualify for the knockout stage so far (Ghana is still alive, though they need help, and Algeria looks like a toss-up), Nigeria has actually looked somewhat decent.  I did not expect all that much from this side coming in, but they have been buoyed by two stars – goalkeeper Vincent Anyeama and striker Emmanuel Emenike.  Both have looked as good at their respective positions as anyone in this tournament thus far.  And, when you get elite play out of your goalkeeper and goal scorer, you can beat quite dangerous.  The Nigerians will face France in the Round of 16 – the first ever WC match for these two – and may just be able to shock the world.

3. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Along with their neighbors, Croatia, B&H looks like an eliminated side that really deserves to keep playing.  They played Argentina awfully tough and then had an incredibly controversial loss to Nigeria that did them in.  They finished strong with 3 goals against Iran, but you have to think this side wishes they could take a shot in the knockout stage.  As Doogan pointed out in the beginning of this tournament – how good would a Yugoslavian team be right now?  With Croatia and B&H both looking very good in this WC plus a very solid Serbian squad that didn’t qualify, wouldn’t that be a loaded team?

4. Iran – Goodbye, Iran, no one will miss you.  The Iranians played with heart – I will give them that – but they just were not on the same level and tried to compensate for that by playing all 10 outfield players in their own end.  It was boring and annoying (though rather smart, strategically).  I don’t blame them because it was the best way to try and compete against players that are just much better, but I really just don’t want to watch them anymore.

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2014 World Cup – Group E (FINAL)

This post will be updated as Group E progresses.

Group E Preview (Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)
Don’t look now, but Switzerland is ranked 6th in the world.  Now, from what I understand (or, more apt, DON’T understand), that ranking is very much inflated by, well, something that I don’t understand.  And, people “in the know” think it’s laughable to think that there are only 5 sides in the world better than the Swiss, but still.  As for the others in this group, France is 17th, Ecuador is 26th, and Honduras is 33rd.  And, yes, the betting odds have France as the heavy favorite to win this group, even without their best (and ugliest) goal-scorer, Franck Ribery.  Honduras is probably a longshot here, but, personally, I would not count out Ecuador from ruining the group stage for one of the European sides.  (Hopefully not Switzerland, as I have them at 3:1 to win this group and 100:1 to win it all.)

6/15, noon – Ecuador vs. Switzerland
Ecuador gets a shot to play spoiler right away, as they take on that “overrated” Swiss side.  This should be a very interesting “measuring stick” kind of a match.  We may know right away whether the FIFA rankings seem bogus and/or whether or not the Ecuadorians are the sleepers that I think they could be.  A draw here wouldn’t be devastating for the Swiss, but it isn’t what they are looking for, that’s for sure.  Ecuador would take the point and run.

Switzerland 2 – Ecuador 1
Wow!  Yet another team that scores first loses, and this one was in spectacularly devastating fashion for the Ecuadorians, as they held a 1-0 lead at halftime before giving up the equalizer right after the intermission.  It stayed 1-1 for 45 minutes into stoppage time.  To their credit, Ecuador did not seem content with the draw and kept attacking into the stoppage time – nearly scoring themselves a couple of times.  However, that attacking style eventually cost them dearly, as the Swiss took a counterattack and scored the game-winner in the 3rd minute of stoppage time.  Ecuador definitely looked like a really dangerous sleeper, but they came away with zero points.  Then again, it was against maybe the best team in the group.  The Swiss picked up a big 3 points here.

6/15, 3:00 – France vs. Honduras
We all remember the debacle that was South Africa 2010 for the L’Equipe Nationale.  Well, apparently, they have totally revamped the roster and are ready to turn the page on that.  They get a pretty cushy spot to do that here, as the Hondurans will most likely be overmatched by the Frenchies.  Then again, does anyone trust the French to be mentally “tough?”

France 3 – Honduras 0
As if it wasn’t a task tall enough for the Hondurans to come in here and play with one of the world’s most talented and potent soccer nations.  But, a yellow card in the box, which happened to be a second yellow for Wilson Palacios, not only put them down 1-0, but also down a man.  It was pretty much over at that point, and the Frogs cruise to a opening victory.  This showed us very little about either team that we didn’t already know.  The Hondurans are not contenders, and the French are.

Day One Recap
The two Euro teams pick up victories over their Western hemisphere opponents.  The French took care of business against Honduras (which the Swiss and probably the Ecuadrians will do, too, so nothing much gained for them), while Switzerland picked up a huge win against an Ecuadorian team that will not be a pushover in their date with France.

6/20, 3:00 – France vs. Switzerland
Another Day Two match between two sides sitting on 3 points after opening round victories.  This is one of the more fascinating matches of the second round, as France is considered the favorite to win this group, despite Switzerland’s higher FIFA ranking, higher qualifying status, and overall better form coming into the Cup.  What do people know about France and/or Switzerland that I do not?  I see the Swiss as the better side here – what am I missing?  Anyway, the winner here is in great shape to win this group and would most likely avoid Argentina in the Round of 16.  Both sides are looking for a victory, but both would probably be okay with a draw, particularly Switzerland, as they have an overmatched Honduras squad in their final match, so a draw here should put them right on track to end with 7 points.  France, with a tough Ecuador side coming up, is probably looking for 3 here.

France 5 – Switzerland 2
Well, one thing I can do is admit when I am wrong.  And, I was VERY wrong on this one.  My sportsbook account took a hit here, too, as I had Switzerland (+280) to win the group and France (+450) not to make it out.  Both of those bets took a serious drubbing with this result, as France looks like the clear class of this group and may be a tough out down the line.  The Swiss, who were somewhat lucky to get 3 points from Ecuador, are still in decent position if they can put it together and beat a bad Honduras side, but this didn’t engender too much confidence in them going forward.

6/20, 6:00 – Ecuador vs Honduras
As good as CONCACAF has been in this tournament, Honduras is not really a good representative because, well, they are not very good.  They got trounced by France in the opener and will likely leave Brazil with 0 points.  Ecuador, coming off of a heartbreaker against Switzerland, gets a real scheduling break here, as they can right themselves against an inferior Honduras side before preparing for their all-important final match against France.  Anything shy of 3 points for the South Americans here would be devastating.

Ecuador 2 – Honduras 1
In a surprisingly entertaining match, Ecuador had to summon the brilliance of Enner Valencia to overcome a 1-0 deficit against a feisty Honduras side.  I am not sure if this was just Honduras coming up and playing well or if this is an indication of an Ecuador side that just isn’t all that good.  The Ecuadorians will need at least a point from France, maybe 3, since the Swiss take on Honduras.

Day Two Recap
The French are the story here and are in really good shape to win this group even if they lose to Ecuador because of their +6 goal differential.  The interesting thing about this group is that there is a somewhat legitimate chance that we could have the first ever elimination of a side sitting on 6 points.  If Switzerland beats Honduras (probable) and Ecuador beats France (at least possible), then all three sides will be on 6 points.  France should be safe with their goal differential, but someone will be out with 6 (probably Switzerland unless they crush Honduras).  Either way, the French should not mess around because the second-place side here gets Argentina in the Round of 16, while the winner likely gets Bosnia or Nigeria.

6/25, 4:00 – Ecuador vs. France
6/25, 4:00 – Honduras vs. Switzerland

This pair of matches gives us one of those interesting battles between two sides for a final spot who are not playing each other.  So, this will require some scoreboard watching and adjustments accordingly.  France is through and, barring a 2-goal loss to Ecuador, will win the group and avoid Argentina.  Honduras is not out officially, but needs a minor miracle in these final matches to sneak through.  That means that we are down to two sides – Ecuador and Switzerland – playing for one spot – E2.  But, they obviously are not playing each other.  At the moment, they are both on 3 points and Ecuador has a 2-goal edge in differential.  But, Ecuador is facing a really good French side, while Switzerland is taking on a rather poor Honduras side.  If Ecuador can get the same result as Switzerland, they are likely to move through, but if the Ecuadorians can only draw with France, while the Swiss beat Honduras, Switzerland will move on.  I have $500 ($5 at 100-1) at stake for the Swiss to win this tournament, so that’s where my rooting interests lie.

Ecuador 0 – France 0
Switzerland 3 – Honduras 0

Switzerland did exactly what they needed to do – they got a 3-goal victory over Honduras, which would clinched their knockout stage qualification unless France lost by multiple goals to Ecuador.  And, once Antonio Valencia went off with a red card (and Shaqiri had already netted a hat trick for the Swiss), it was pretty much a done deal.  The Ecuadorians played hard and played well, holding a potent French offense scoreless, but, in the end, that stoppage time goal that they allowed to Switzerland in the very first match ended up being the difference.

Group E Final Recap
1. France
– I think it is safe to say that maybe only the Netherlands have looked more impressive than the French so far in this tournament.  They scored 8 goals in their first two matches before playing a conservative 0-0 draw against Ecuador to move them through.  In the last 9 World Cups, the French were completely feast or famine.  They have been eliminated in the group stage 4 times and at least made the semifinals the other 5.  So, history tells us that if they get out of group play, they are very dangerous.  This year, they will move to the Round of 16 and a date with Nigeria.  Looking further ahead, the bracket sets us up for a pretty incredible France-Germany quarterfinal if they both take care of business beforehand.  I think it’s officially safe to say that, regardless of their performance from here on out, the nightmarish 2010 World Cup is officially behind them. 

2. Switzerland – The Swiss were not especially impressive, but they stayed the course and have qualified out of a somewhat treacherous group.  The thrashing of Honduras was a good sign to try and get them on the right track heading into the knockout stage, though they better be ready to go right away because Lionel Messi and the Argentines await in the Round of 16.

3. Ecuador – All in all, you have to say that the Ecuadorians acquitted themselves well despite being the only South Americans not to make the knockout stage.  That stoppage time goal they conceded to Switzerland in their very first match proved to be their undoing, as they put themselves in a must-beat-France position, which proved to be just too tough.  Either way, they can leave with their heads held high, and Enner Valencia can leave with his star a good bit brighter.

4. Honduras – An overmatched side in a somewhat difficult group, Honduras cannot be all that surprised or disappointed to be leaving without a point.  They did look good in their middle match against Ecuador, but were simply overwhelmed by the two European sides who abused them on their way out of the group.  The only CONCACAF side not to qualify for the knockout stage was clearly the weakest from that Confederation going in.  The Hondurans should just be proud back-to-back Cup qualifications.

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Drinking from the World Cup: Day 14

Recapping Day 13:
The theme of the day was the end of eras, one very succesful and one not so much, for Italy and Ivory Coast.  Poor Ivory Coast.  Really their last shot to do something at a World Cup with this generation of top players, and they come up short again.  This time in heartbreaking fashion, as they give up a penalty kick in the 93rd Minute that ousts them and moves boring Greece onto the knockout stage.  The call could’ve gone either way, but it was one of those things where the player shouldn’t given the ref the opportunity to make the penalty call.  This was the last World Cup for Drogba and Yaya Toure, and Gervinho and Kalou will be past 30 in the next Cup.

For Italy, they go out in the Group stage for the second straight Cup, after winning in 2006.  Of course the big story was Luis Suarez’s bite.  In his defense, Chiellini looks like an incredibly annoying player to play against.  In NOT his defense, I could say a million things.  Mainly, uh, you’re an adult, don’t bite people?  But also, he’s already had two huge punishments and firestorms of controversy over previous bites.  How could he do it again and think he’d get away with it?  He faked like he had just banged his mouth on the guy’s shoulder.  He didn’t realize it’s the World Cup and there’s 50 high def cameras pointed at him at all times?  I guess he just gets lost in competing and, for him, that means chomping down on the nearest piece of flesh.  Very bizarre and very dumb.  They haven’t announced it yet, but I can’t imagine we’ll see him play again in this tournament, which is a shame for Uruguay and fans of great soccer playing, because he can certainly provide it.

Today’s Games:
Noon: Argentina vs. Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran
4PM: France vs. Ecuador and Switzerland vs. Honduras

Today’s Drink:
Diseno Torrontes. We take a much needed step away from beer for this Argentinian white wine.  We’ve been heavy on the European drinks, so it’s about time we spend some time with a South American product.  After all, Europe has been a disappointment in this tournament, with Spain, Italy, England, and (most likely) Portugal all failing to get out of their groups.  Meanwhile, every South American team is still alive, though it seems FIFA has screwed them over a bit by putting Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia all in the same section of the bracket for the knockout stage, meaning those four of the six South American teams will battle it out for one semifinal spot.

What’s At Stake:
The Group F games (noon) are probably the least interesting of this third series of games for any group.  Argentina has advanced and just needs a draw to win the group, which they’ll want to do so they can avoid a hot French team in their next game.  Meanwhile, Nigeria is almost assured to advance no matter what anyway.  They take second in the group with draw, but even with a loss they’d be in decent shape because Iran would have to beat Bosnia, and they haven’t come close to scoring a goal yet, so that seems pretty unlikely.

France hasn’t even officially advanced yet but they’ve basically won the group, with their massive goal differential of +6, and Honduras is still technically alive but their -4 differential with 0 points makes it unlikely.  So the intrigue really comes on who can grab the most points today, Ecuador or Switzerland, with Ecuador up two in goal differential but facing a much tougher opponent.

Before the tournament, I picked all six South American teams to advance out of the group stage.  Five are now through.  So I’ll stick with my prediction and bet on Ecuador to find a way.  That way will very likely be through Enner Valencia, but don’t count out Felipe Caicedo, a strong and talented striker who has yet to find the back of the net in this tourney.  We’ll see how many regular starters France uses against them, since they’ve all but won this group.  Yohan Cabaye is already out after two yellows, and I doubt they’ll start Paul Pogba or Patrice Evra either, as they both have a yellow and they won’t want them to miss the next game.

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